In summer 2015, I moved from Tokyo to San Diego. One of the primary concerns I had before moving was how the local airport lacked intercontinental flights. To return to Asia, I had to make it to Los Angeles either through a costly flight or a time-consuming train-ride. Both options were not at all ideal.
To my surprise, Japan Airlines runs a daily roundtrip between Narita Airport in Greater Tokyo and San Diego International Airport. Inaugurated in Dec 2012, the route was made possible by the long-range medium-capacity Dreamliner. The schedule is extremely convenient for travelers: JL66 leaves Tokyo in the late afternoon and arrives in San Diego early in the morning. The return leg, JL65, leaves around noon and arrives at Narita the next day in the late afternoon.
Airline: Japan Airlines (JAL) (日本航空)
Aircraft: JA828J Boeing 787-8 (788) (ボーイング787-8ドリームライナー) (186-seat configuration/ 42C 144Y)
Class Type: Economy Class (エコノミークラス) (Y Class)
Seat: 52A (window seat without windows) => 24E
Origin: San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field) – Terminal 2 (SAN / KSAN) (サンディエゴ国際空港/ターミナル2)
Destination: Tokyo Narita International Airport – Terminal 2 (NRT / RJAA) (東京成田国際空港/第2ターミナル)
Departure Date: 9 December, 2015
Arrival Date: 10 December, 2015
ATD: 11:50 AM PST
ATA: 04:30 PM JST
I arrived at the airport at around 10AM. Check-in was done in a timely manner, as there were not that many people at the counters. When requesting for a window seat, I was told that the flight was almost fully loaded. It was Christmas season and many Asian students studying in Greater San Diego were to take the JAL service back to their home countries via Tokyo. Nevertheless, the agent was able to seat me next a window (which would later turn out to be a disappointment).
After checking-in, I proceeded to TSA security checks. When compared to other major U.S. gateways, especially the nearby mega-hub Los Angeles Airport, San Diego airport was not as busy. The lines for security were short and digested quickly. This reminded me of my ANA experience at JFK Terminal 7, which was equally speedy.
However, the size of the terminal also indicated that there were little shopping and dining options. I was glad that I did not check-in early, or else I would be bored out by the lack of amenities at the airport. After a quick round of plane-spotting, I proceeded to Gate 20, where I saw my first long waiting line of the day. Economy Class passengers were all anxious to get onboard, resulting in a queue that extended to the nearby Gate 21 area. Nevertheless, the staff quickly scanned everyone’s tickets and I was on the plane in no time.
On the Tokyo-San Diego route, JAL utilizes 787-8 with the original 2012-layout. Business Class on the plane features 42 angle-flat JAL Shell Flat Neo seats (B/E Aerospace MiniPod) (2-2-2 layout), while Economy Class offers Recaro CL3510 seats in an 8-abreast 2-4-2 arrangement. (As compared to the 9-abreast 3-3-3 “double-excuse-me” layout other 787 operators offer.) Each seat is installed with a 10.6-inch PTV with MAGIC-V (Thales i8000) IFE. Universal power outlets, USB ports, and RCA sockets are also available.
While Business Class features a dark color palette, including charcoal black and dark blue, Economy Class is dominated by light shades of gray. The color choice can only be pulled off by JAL, which emphasizes greatly on sanitary standards. Furthermore, when the mood lighting is in full effect, the seats fully reflect the beautiful colors of the LED light.
Comfort-wise, the 18.5-inch width is acceptable while the 31.1-inch pitch is not particularly impressive. Furthermore, in the space underneath the front seat, there are in-flight entertainment (IFE) boxes. These boxes, per my observation, occupy up to a quarter of the space. Certain seats, such as the E-seats I travelled in, have to accommodate the boxes of the aisle seats as well. The two boxes result in the feet-space being cut by half.
According to various flyers, the newly refurbished Sky Suite SS8 no longer has IFE boxes by the feet. Even better is how the SS8 seats offer more seat pitch and width. Hopefully JAL will soon extend the “Welcome! New Sky” project to the San Diego route.
When I located my seat, I was shocked to find out that my “window” seat does not have a window. Row 52 on the JAL 787-8 is the only row that completely lacks windows. After sitting down, I realized that there was something even worse about the seats: overwhelming walls. This made me rather claustrophobic and I immediately requested a seat change. As there were no other empty window seats, the friendly crew asked whether I’d like to be switched to a center seat. Feeling more uncomfortable than ever next to the walls, I happily accepted the offer.
After the plane reached its cruising altitude, I was relocated to 24E. Turned out that this seat was even worse than 52A. As mentioned earlier, the E-seats have two IFE boxes underneath the front seat. Not only was I unable to put my backpack in front of my seat, I also had trouble moving my feet around. However, unwilling to further trouble the cabin crew, I decided to settle down.
Soon after take-off, the crew went around the cabin distributing rice crackers and drinks. I have always loved Japanese rice crackers, and the JAL ones were no exception. Shortly afterwards, I was served with lunch. The meal tray consisted of miso salmon with rice, noodles, salad, fruits, and a cup of miso soup. The dishes were full of flavor, which was a surprise, as I never had high hopes for U.S. catering companies. Another plus was how JAL provided metal utensils instead of plastic ones. To accompany the meal, I also ordered a plum wine soda, which was simply delightful. A Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream was later handed to top off the meal.
After meal services ended, the cabin lights were dimmed and all windows were darkened. Some passengers reclined and started sleeping; others started exploring the IFE options. To my disappointment, JAL movies were not particularly appealing. (Reminding me of my experiences on All Nippon Airways (ANA)) The older 787s also lacked Wi-Fi services, thus greatly limiting things customers could do onboard.
Unwilling to watch any of the movies, I attempted to rest. However, just like most of my other flying experiences, I couldn’t fall asleep while flying (even in premium classes). After giving up, I ordered a can of Asahi Super Dry beer to enjoy while reading a book I bought in Taiwan quite a while ago. I loved how drink menus were placed in each of the seat pockets. Passengers could enjoy great selection of drinks and place orders whenever possible.
About three hours before landing, the cabin lights were turned on again. It was meal time. I was served with a light meal consisting of an onion bagel, smoked salmon with caramelized onions and lettuce, fruits, yogurt, and a cup of green tea. I found the idea of letting passengers make their own bagel to be extremely clever. Like a kid, I happily followed the instructions provided and excitingly put the ingredients on my bagel. The “Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Bagel” was delicious and put a big smile on my face.
About two hours after breakfast, our plane prepared for landing. The plane touched down smoothly at Narita Airport at around 4:30 in the afternoon. Tokyo was extremely cold, but the feeling of being back home made everything better.
In conclusion, I had quite an enjoyable journey onboard the Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Of course, the hardware was a bit of a disappointment—from the window-less window seats to the IFE boxes. Nevertheless, the services provided by the crew, the food served onboard, and the overall cabin ambiance made the experience much better. Not to mention the technological advantages of the Dreamliner, providing a quiet cabin with great air quality, comfortable humidity, and sea-level cabin pressure.
I sincerely hope JAL continues being successful on this sector. Services to Asia are crucial to the San Diego metropolitan region, and the presence of JAL provides much convenience. A hardware upgrade will be much appreciated, nevertheless, as JAL has yet to put the “dream” in “Dreamliner” for San Diego.
Wishing our readers a prosperous Lunar New Year! Happy year of the monkey!